I can understand why people would enjoy Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs, a slow paced homage to friendship and the rural American way of life. It felt nostalgic, and Butler’s prose is beautiful and descriptive, his characters warm and inviting. It is a book however that will not speak to everyone’s tastes, which is no judgement of Butler’s clear talent, but simply a fact of individual reading tastes.
Set in a rural Wisconsin farming town, Shotgun Lovesongs elicits a sense of home. The pace is slow, teasing a novel from everyday experiences and not much action. Butler’s language is familiar and comfortable, like talking to an old friend you’ve not seen in a while. His characters, Kip, Ronny, Henry, Lee and Beth are well realised with their own motivations, but for me I simply didn’t feel invested. Each chapter is narrated by a different character who’s stories intertwine, but although Butler’s writing style is fluid and easy to read, he lacks a clear voice for each of his characters. Without the convenient initial at the top of each chapter I would have struggled to know who was speaking.
We meet these characters in a series of small moments, around the time of various weddings. Shotgun Lovesongs is a very relationship oriented book, both friendships and love interests. Because of this, while I felt I knew the characters, my views did not feel well rounded. All the characters reactions to certain things are seen only within the snapshot of their immediate relationship dramas. If we had got to know the characters within their everyday moments I would have felt a greater sense of them. As it was, some of the reactions seemed slightly more implausible than I would otherwise have felt them to be and it made the plot slightly too predictable.
Where this novel really fell short for me was the very end. It escalated far too quickly and made me think that Butler had simply struggled to find a suitable resolution to what was otherwise a slow paced story. The slow pace is what had made Shotgun Lovesongs so good to begin with, and the unnecessary action of the last few pages felt forced and unnatural. The love and heart he poured in to the rural Wisconsin setting almost felt betrayed by this slightly ridiculous ending.
Despite its flaws, Shotgun Lovesongs is a beautifully written book with heart. Despite its essentially mundane subject matter it was well realised and was never boring, however I must admit that it simply wasn’t to my taste. Despite Butler’s clear talent and obvious love for his subject matter the whole reading experience felt nice, but somehow not that special.